It seems absurd to me that there are people out there who haven’t seen Back To The Future. The idea that there is a small portion of the population that, indeed had not seen Marty McFly hit 88 miles an hour and go back to 1955 and kiss his mom. I would have firmly put this community in the same category as the Loch Ness and Bigfoot until I married a member of this community.
I have probably seen BTTF at least once a year since I was 10 years old. Which probably means I have watched it at least 18 times, minimum. I’m sure there are definitely years in there that I watched a couple times in a single weekend but I want to not sound like a crazy person. However, on each watching I love it even more. I laugh at all the same places, a certain amount of anticipation builds inside of me when Doc Brown runs from Marty after learning about the 1.21 gigawatts needed to make time travel possible. He then runs from Marty and into his living room and begins to speak to Tom (Edison), pleading with him and asking how he could be SOOO careless. I lose it every time.
On my most recent viewing, I sat down with my wife to watch this movie. Excited to have the new connection, a bond like Marty and Jennifer’s. However, on this most recent viewing, my wife didn’t develop cramps from laughing. When the credits rolled she did not stand and salute Back To The Future as one of the greatest films of all time. This took me to a dark place and made me wonder, “Is Back To The Future really not all that good?”
I tried to think about my first viewing of this movie, as a 10 year this movie started with so much energy. Marty blowing up a giant amp, skateboarding late to school while Huey Lewis and the News played and then heading to the twin pines mall after midnight to meet Doc Brown and his time traveling Delorean! What’s not to love? It’s all just perfect for any tween.
But, in 2013, does it hold up? Do the jokes really hold their punch? Does the narrative structure make sense in a post-Matrix-David Lynch-Judd Apatow world? I want to look at a few elements of the movie and try and come to a conclusion on whether or not they stand the test of time.
Some jokes are outdated. That should not be held against the film because good comedy sometimes is time sensitive. We talk about comedy being “relevant” for all generations but that happens so infrequently. Even George Carlin’s “7 words” bit is out of date. (Did he set the stage for comedy today, yes? But, does it sound as outlandish now? No.)
The Jokes that I think hold up the best are the ones where they are making fun of the universe they currently inhabit (i.e., Running gag of what is playing at the theatre) or the physical humor of Christopher Lloyd. For Example:
Marty McFly: Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?
Dr. Emmett Brown: Precisely.
Marty McFly: Whoa. This is heavy.
Dr. Emmett Brown: There’s that word again. “Heavy.” Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?
George McFly: Lorraine. My density has brought me to you.
Lorraine Baines: What?
George McFly: Oh. What I meant to say was…
Lorraine Baines: Wait a minute. Don’t I know you from somewhere?
George McFly: Yes. Yes. I’m George. George McFly. I’m your density. I mean, your destiny.
These illustrate my point that the jokes are firmly planted in the Zemeckis/Gale universe and nail it. Others like when Marty orders a tab at the 1950’s coffee shop is still funny but as the TAB soda company continues to fall out of the general consciousness, that joke is gets more difficult to get.
Do the jokes hold up? Yes, at least the ones that inhabit the universe.
This article was first posted on April 24, 2013